(Photo by Gabe Licht)
"We got into better yields in southwest Iowa," Flory said, comparing the area to eastern Nebraska. "We're talking about 160 bushels per acre of corn."
That average has been consistent through much of western Iowa, Flory said.
He is supervising 45 researchers on the western leg of the tour, which covers eastern Nebraska, western Iowa, the southeastern corner of South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota.
Some researchers without a farm background were unclear of the key difference between Nebraska and Iowa.
"They kept saying, 'The weather must have been better here,'" Flory recalled. "I said, 'What you're seeing is the reason why the dirt we're traveling is some of the most expensive in the nation. They've had just as much heat and just as little rain as Nebraska. They're blessed to have the dirt here to withstand the worst growing season.'"
Flory uses that term to compare 2012 to 1988, with a few clarifiers.
"The dirt can handle it (the drought) and the genetics have vastly improved," Flory said. "With 1988 genetics, this would be 80-bushel corn."
The Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour has a 20-year history of "consistently random" crop samplings.
"There are still some farmers who think we're 40 or 50 guys who jump on a bus and go from one farm to the next," Flory said. "Obviously, that's not how we do it."
Instead, they divide into teams of four and take different routes, which meet in a different host city every night and ultimately convene in Owatonna, Minn.
Each team stops every 20 miles at the first neighboring corn and bean fields they see. The random configuration of the teams and routes is meant to prevent anyone from gravitating toward a certain quality of field in an attempt to skew results.
Once a team arrives at a corn field, they bypass end rows and go an additional 35 paces before measuring 30 feet. They count the grain-filling ears in two 30-foot rows and pull the fifth, eighth and 11th ear from one row.
"It could be the best three, the worst three or an average," Flory said. "We're trying to find representative ears. ... We're not trying to peg the yield in each and every field, but estimate it for the state."
For soybeans, they opt for "trying to figure out how much of the bean-production factory is running," by estimating the number of pods in a 9-foot square area. That average is down from about 1,250 per square last year to 1,150 per square in Iowa, Flory said.
While an 8 percent decrease is not ideal, it is more favorable than the 47 percent decrease in South Dakota and a 30 percent decrease in Nebraska.
A tremendous amount of variation can exist in any given field. When Flory saw a Johnson County, Neb. farmer combining -- a first for the tour -- he learned that the middle of that field was yielding a mere 45 bushels of corn per acre, compared to 135 bushels per acre in the west end of the same row.
"The variability in each field makes this job even more difficult," he said.
In Buena Vista County, Flory spotted another combine. His crew jumped into action to sample a portion of the remaining four rows.
"It wasn't a very good spot, but we pegged it at 136 bushels per acre," Flory said. "That estimate was confirmed with the yield monitor showing mid-130s to 140s. It made me feel good about our estimates overall."
Flory was likely not the only one feeling good about the numbers from that field.
"The field average was pushing 160 bushels per acre, with 22 percent moisture," he added, indicating that other parts of the field performed much better.
Tour representatives met in Spencer Wednesday evening and shared their preliminary results. Complete Iowa results will be available Thursday at www.agweb.com/profarmer.